Nagaland : 'New Oting story' - Beyond Pain and Silence

Nirendra Dev *

The village Oting under Tizit assembly segment in Mon district in Nagaland has grown beyond silence and pain. There are complexities of human life and a multi-layered saga depicting the burden of the past. This was my second visit to Oting since April 2023.

The Oting village had courted ill-fate and controversy on December 4, 2021 when in a botched up operation 21 paratroopers from neighbouring Assam had killed 14 innocuous coal mine workers from the hitherto little known village mistaking them as militants.

"The anger is still there, but we have decided to move on. I also tell visitors and my own villagers, it's good to forget the bad phase", says a 68-year-old resident.

At the entry point I am surrounded by a group of armed security personnel. One of them spoke to his colleague in Mizo. As one knew a bit of the language of Lushai hills, I was taken aback. Some Mizo words/phrases are easy to remember, "Omlo mo...(Is it not there?)".

Was he asking about the need to do frisking, I was not sure. But back in my mind, I remembered a quote:
"I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past". Later, I discovered those were by former US President Thomas Jefferson.

We smiled. I told the Mizo man in camouflage that I was in Lunglei and Aizawl. Soon we became friends and he offered to take a few snaps of mine and accompany me as I went around the village.

I thanked him; in return he was polite and frank: "Hum bhi duty karta hae (I am also doing my job)", he said in typical Mizo accent.

One could get a smell that things may not be normal yet. We encountered a retired teacher. "We have heard the night is the darkest before a bright dawn. We have passed through the darkness; and now waiting for the morning...... but a lot of things were said and as you know seeing is believing," remarked Nahpo Konyak, a retired school master.

Well, it takes courage to make such a statement when his son Tingshen has been rendered handicapped by the gory incident of Dec 4, 2021. The atmosphere appeared heavy with some kind of mystery; something I ought to unravel.

"Welcome to our village, we have gone through such bad times...welcome to our country," said another elderly man -- not very keen to share his name. "ki hobo (What's the use of putting my name there in your report)," he remarked and the pathos in his voice could reflect the tragedy wherein 14 people lost their lives in December 2021 to a botched up anti-insurgency crackdown.

But to a question, he surprised me. "The anger is still there, but we have decided to move on''. Others confirm, for months since December 2021 Oting people maintained "non cooperation" with security forces. But slowly and certainly that is no longer the case.

... Soldiers go around the village. Children yell at them, wave hands and even joke in Hindi.

"Three village bore wells are almost ready and water tanks have also come up," says one villager. A youth says the vast football ground too is ready with seating sheds.

"But we want more, and something basics that everyone ignored...if you meet the Chief Minister in Kohima or Prime Minister in Delhi; tell them while compensation amount has been given to families of the deceased and also a job; nothing much has happened for those who survived but are handicapped for life," remarked Noko Konyak, 18.

Other villagers also agree with him. A medico and a state government employee says, "I am not from this village. But I agree a lot of good work has been taken up by the central government and Assam Rifles. Now a good all-season road and effective water supply will help the villagers".

Road making is not akin to Franchising a business house. Yet it is. Franchising means a win-all situation. It's amazing and so is this road connecting the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna (PMGSY) project namely Lapa-Lampong-Tiru Road which passes from a distance outside the village.

The Black topping work will be taken up by Sewak.

" The purpose of this Road is to provide last mile connectivity to the Oting Village by black-topping the approach road to Oting, a stretch of 2.4 km. The present road used by villagers, was a poorly maintained rd, which posed utter difficulty for daily commuting especially during monsoon," says a civilian worker involved in the Sewak work.

We trek some yards and hit upon the villagers -- some raising usual Naga queries, "Kene ka asey ho? Bhal na? (How are you, hope everything is fine ?) A few others would grin.

"We will have hassle-free commuting now....even last year, we had a commuting problem for villagers for daily sustenance especially during monsoons. Now all these will be resolved," said a youngster probably dreaming of a smooth bike ride.

On the way back, I found some Assam Rifles officials and jawans inspecting the road site and talking to Sewak. Some contract labourers are also seen.

"The PMGSY aims to connect all villages of India with black topped roads. The additional construction of the Oting approach road or Black Topping of existing stretch fulfills the vision of ‘last mile connectivity", one of them said.

There are some dusty patches and while returning, one finds the terrain tough. One is also caught up in a train of thought. I felt 'doors' have been open for security forces and Assam Rifles. A few days before we landed at Oting; an ULFA camp in nearby area was busted.

In fact, it was a major operation that lasted for four days wherein Nagaland Police and Assam Rifles busted the hideout in Shingphan Forest Area of Nagaland and recovered of one 0.22 rifle (telescopic sight, magazine with rounds), two 0.32 pistols, one 7.62mm pistol, four radio sets with batteries and combat uniform among other daily essentials.

The operation was launched on Feb 6 "based on inputs of presence of armed ULFA (I) insurgents" for carrying out extortion activities along Nagaland Assam border. Life can really go on.

But the new story is of forgiveness and trust.

* Nirendra Dev wrote this article for
The writer is based in New Delhi and can be contacted at nirendev1(AT)gmail((DOT)com
This article was webcasted on 05 March 2024 .

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